LSU Tigers Defense: Best in the Country and Good Enough to Win It All?

Kelly ScalettaFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2011

STARKVILLE, MS - SEPTEMBER 15:  Running back Spencer Ware #11 of the LSU Tigers runs for a first down as defensive back Charles Mitchell #4 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs closes in on September 15, 2011 at Davis Wade stadium in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
Butch Dill/Getty Images

In a halftime interview Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said of the LSU Tigers, "They want to play smash mouth football. We can do that." Then the Bulldogs spent the second half getting their mouths smashed. There really is no other way to say it. 

Through the first 27 minutes of the second half the Bulldogs held the ball for only seven minutes total. They gained just 16 total yards on only 19 plays. They had only one first down. It was an absolutely crushing performance. 

Over the course of the game the Tigers spent as much time in the MSU backfield as the Bulldog quarterback Chris Reif. In all they had 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage which included four sacks. 

That's slightly more than one quarter of all MSU plays. It was enough to make you think that MSU was a bad team. 

This wasn't a cupcake getting pummeled in Death Valley though. It was a ranked team on the road that LSU was destroying. 

This was a team that had amassed 93 points in its first two games and gained over 300 yards on the ground in each of them. It was the second time in three weeks LSU had made a ranked, high-powered offense look ordinary. 

On opening day they squashed defending Pac-12 champion and third-ranked Oregon, whose offense looked like it did last year as soon as they weren't playing LSU last week, gaining 603 yards and scoring 69 points. When they played LSU they were held to 335 yards and 27 points, numbers embellished by a final 70-yard garbage time drive.

The two victories are impressive in their combination as the teams rely on different strategies to produce massive offensive numbers when they aren't playing LSU. Mississippi State has a power rushing game. Oregon has a precision offense that runs at a high speed. 

The LSU defense has all the feel of a championship defense that can overpower any team in the country at the line and match speed with anyone in the country in the secondary. 

The question that surrounds LSU though is its offense and those questions started to look like they could be answered in the affirmative. Quarterback Jarrett Lee, the fifth-year senior, is showing significant growth since he passed for regular touchdowns to the other team in 2008. 

He was steady and while he threw his first pick of the year, it was his first pick in 131 attempts, six shy of the school record. Spencer Ware looked like Earl Campbell, seeking contact and punishing tacklers. Over the course of the game the line wore down the MSU defense and controlled the ball for 37:50 in the game. 

With the best defense in the country, an offense averaging "just" 33 points per game is more than enough for the Tigers to be a convincing challenger for the national championship. Through the first three weeks of the season LSU is the only team that has two wins over ranked opponents and both were highly impressive. No other team can say or will be able to say that after the end of the weekend. 

LSU's schedule doesn't get any easier next week as they go to West Virginia where they will play yet another ranked opponent on the road. If they get another impressive win there it's going to be hard to justify not putting them as the No. 1 team in the country if they shouldn't be already.